What Marketers Can Learn From the Responses to a Hacked Email Account

A Simple Spam Message for Viagra Reveals the Basics of Trust

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Bob Garfield
Bob Garfield
Got a nice email from the little woman this week.

No subject in the subject line, more or less as usual, because that requires so much thinking and typing and so forth. It was just a hyperlink. "Why," I remarked to my inner self, "this must lead to an amusing or perhaps even enlightening web page. I shall see what my better half is passing along to me."

Click, click. It was an ad for cheap Viagra from the good folks at Canadian Health & Care Mall.

One wonders how a husband is supposed to process such a missive. Me, I was having trouble finding a positive spin. But before panicking, I clicked on the "details" tab of the email and quickly realized that my wife had sent the same helpful suggestion to every single person in her address book, including business associates, family, our daughter's elementary-school teachers and pretty much the entire parents' association.

Yes, it was the day Mama socked it to the Beverly Farms PTA.

Because her email account had been robo-hacked.

So I immediately did two things:

1) Canceled my order at Canadian Health & Care Mall.

2) Started peeking at the return email generated by the hack. It was a revelation.

Turns out, from Argentina to France to Holland to Serbia to Hong Kong, nobody much cared that they'd been spammed and possibly had their computers infected by evil Canadians (or, let's face it, evil probably-not Canadians). Mainly, they were just delighted to hear from my wife:

My dear girl, I don't care if it's a mistake, I was happy to see your name on my screen.

We haven't seen each other or heard from each other since last century.

This thing for cheap Viagra just made my day... hahahha. I haven't heard from you for ages.

Even the one recipient who was confused, and annoyed, took the opportunity to reconnect.

What are you sending me? ... I don't get what this was supposed to mean. Better to write a little about what's going on, what are you doing, how are you.

I cannot imagine a more trenchant example of the value of a trusted source. All of these people opened an email without a subject line because it appeared to come from someone they knew and respected. Sure, that psychology fuels this intractable category of fraud, but it should also undergird virtually every move a legitimate marketer makes.

In a Listenomics world, astute marketers will thrive first because they contrive to have their names passed around among friends. In time, those same marketers will thrive still more because they themselves have been elevated to the status of trusted friend -- something seldom, if ever, accomplished via advertising alone. For instance, I fast-forward through every commercial on "Mad Men." But I so admire the taste and judgment of the show's producers, if they were to send me an email, I'd open it. And if that message turned out to be a proposition I'm not interested in, I'd be disappointed -- just like my wife's long-lost pen pals -- but nonetheless keen to keep in touch. So here's my two-part advice for the world of marketers:

1) Put yourself in the position to disappoint me.

2) Then don't.

Bob Garfield, now a consultant, has reported on advertising, marketing and media for 28 years.
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